Peter Williams on the Gospels as Eyewitness Accounts

Peter Williams is the warden at Tyndale House in Cambridge, England. He is also one of the bright lights of evangelical scholarship. Last March, he gave a fascinating lecture at the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, Texas titled “New Evidences the Gospels were Based on Eyewitness Accounts.” John Piper has called this presentation “the most remarkable (video) lecture on the reliability of the Gospels I’ve ever heard.” I would agree with Piper. I found this lecture to be absolutely riveting. The main lecture is above, and a short Q&A with Dr. Williams is below.

If you want to pursue this topic further, I highly recommend Richard Bauckham’s excellent book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans, 2006).

(HT: John Piper)

9 Responses to Peter Williams on the Gospels as Eyewitness Accounts

  1. Ryan October 24, 2011 at 2:04 am #

    “They’re just ordinary guys, regular Texans, who are saying what they think really happened.”

    Great ending. : )

    I really enjoyed the lecture and appreciated his analysis. Honestly, I look for the same thing in fiction – names, places, and settings that make sense and are internally consistent. Stories lose something without these, and from having tried my hand at creating stories, I can say it’s quite hard to do.

    I appreciate that while these factors help provide an aura of authenticity around the text, Dr. Williams doesn’t treat his statistics as “proofs” for why any logical person must believe the Scriptures are authentic. He appears to be laboring to prove that Christianity, or at least the reliability of the Gospels, is reasonable without assuming that any man can be “logicked” into belief.

    • Jason October 24, 2011 at 10:40 am #

      “without assuming that any man can be “logicked” into belief.”

      That’s the impression I get, too, and I think that’s correct. But then again, I get that from Jesus, too.

      “Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.”

  2. yankeegospelgirl October 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    Wow. This is the kind of work my father does over here in the states (with the exception that he’s not full time like Williams). They’re two of a kind. Very good stuff!

  3. Donald Johnson October 24, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    It is reasonable to accept the Gospel accounts.

  4. Ryan October 24, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    Just listened to the Q&A. He gets quotable again when answering a question about translations (particularly what he thinks of the NIV 2011).

    “The best Bible to use is the one that you use a lot.” : )

    On how he dates the Gospels,

    “I only date my wife.” : P

    But he had an interesting point – he evaluates them as they are based on the quality of the material (not on when scholars determine they were written).

    I also appreciated his standpoint on the issue of Q – he describes himself as “fiercely agnostic.” I get frustrated at times by people who assert that you must believe X or Y to call yourself this or that (seems to happen a lot when people call themselves inerrantists).

    In short… I want more. Thanks for introducing me to him!

    • Jason October 25, 2011 at 10:45 am #

      “he evaluates them as they are based on the quality of the material (not on when scholars determine they were written).”

      This doesn’t make sense to me, and I can say with certainty that it it is not Dr. Williams view overall. One cannot separate one from the other, and though he may not address the date of composition in these lectures, he addresses it in excruciating length in his text crit. work. The primacy of certain manuscripts over others must in some way include dating, as is the case on his blog

      http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/

      Secondly, I’m not sure how his lack of certainty about Q would by any measure translate to other aspects of his view of Scripture or Christian doctrine. Elsewhere Dr. Williams asserts inerrancy in debate with Dr. Ehrman, so your pleasure on the matter cited won’t be found elsewhere. It is interesting but I get frustrated at times when, in conversation, people will express the fact that they have an issue with a particular position – assuming the validity of the issue – without explaining why they think that their particular hang up is valid.

      So why don’t you call yourself an inerrantist?

      • Ryan October 25, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

        I think you’re misreading my comment there, Jason. Start listening around 4:20 to the Q&A video and you’ll hear him say,

        “I don’t have particular dates for the Gospels, my interest is in showing the quality of the material.”

        He does make the point that he believes they were written within one lifetime of the events and that John’s dating (latest of the four) doesn’t decrease its reliability relative to the others. Its reliability, as far as I took him to mean, is based on its quality – i.e. everything he talks about in the lecture – not on how closely it was written to the life of Jesus. I’m sure I could’ve worded my summary above better.

        Also, the question he was answering (starts around 3:59) wasn’t in relation to other non-canonical Gospels, but even those he discounts in the lecture based on the shoddy quality of the material.

        In short… I agree with you.

        Likewise your second point. I do call myself an inerrantist, and I wasn’t bringing into question his belief. : P

        I wasn’t conveying any differences but jiving with the spirit of his answer to the question given. I don’t have any particular horse in the Q race… quoting his stance was my attempt to convey like-mindedness not on this but on various other non-essential topics.

        I mentioned inerrancy because there are various issues that come up perennial or occasionally that seem to invalidate one’s claim to the belief, such as the age of the Earth or whether or not Matthew includes phenomenal, non-factual story telling devices in Matthew 27. (The interested observer will know to which recent “debate” I refer.) Alas, my frustration is only surface level, because it’s not like I’m the one getting called out in the blogs. ; )

        Too long, didn’t read? There’s nothing to see here, we’re of one mind.

        I do thank you for the link to his blog, though. As I said above, I want more!

        • Jason October 26, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

          A helpful clarification, Ryan, thanks so much. I agree that it is largely better to spend time on what can be asserted with confidence (while highlighting the doubtful or questionable vis-a-vis the debating partner’s position).

          Language can be so troublesome. In your last full paragraph you wrote,

          “I mentioned inerrancy because there are various issues that come up perennial or occasionally that seem to invalidate one’s claim to the belief, such as the age of the Earth or whether or not Matthew includes phenomenal, non-factual story telling devices in Matthew 27. (The interested observer will know to which recent “debate” I refer.)”

          “seem to invalidate” could so easily be misinterpreted. Would it be that it is actually invalidated, or that people who either don’t understand the doctrine or are letting extrabiblical ideas to be the default meaning behind what the bible says THINK that it is invalidated? I suspect the latter for you, as it is for me, from what you have said about yourself.

          I’ve heard Mark Dever tell a story about Roger Nicole. While Nicole’s Byington Scholar, Dever asked Nicole why he was constantly using the word “inerrancy”, as it was as inflammatory then as it is now. Dr. Nicole replied, (paraphrasing) “I do not use inerrancy to tell others what I think, I use inerrancy to find out why they do not.”

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  1. Philosophical Fragments » Were the Gospels Written by Eyewitnesses? - October 25, 2011

    [...] remarkable (video) lecture on the reliability of the Gospels I’ve ever heard.”  (HT Denny Burk)Curious yet?  When young Christians study the Bible in the context of modern biblical scholarship [...]

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